Leith Hill

The weather yesterday was GLORIOUS. Beautiful bright sunshine, cool air, a gorgeous day where both autumn and winter were jostling for space. 

We decided to make the most of a day with no plans and visit Leith Hill, a national trust spot in Surrey. It was so beautiful! I would really recommend it to anyone who lives locally. The light, the trees, the views, the many dogs for Frida to meet, the hot chocolate and fruitcake which met us at the Leith Hill Tower…  

I hope you’ll forgive my indulgence in sharing a few photos with you! 

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London Zoo 

My husband doesn’t work on Thursdays. He has compressed his hours, meaning he works four longer days, but then has an extra day a week gloriously free to spend with Frida.

We decided to put today to good use, making the most of the April sunshine and continuing celebrations for Frida’s first birthday, and take her to the zoo for the first time.

She has started to be much more interested in animals recently so we thought she would be old enough to enjoy it. And I am so glad we took her.

She spent most of our visit in the sling, quietly observing the creatures around her. She loved looking at the myriad colourful birds (“buh buh buh!”) and butterflies, and seemed more taken with these than the monkeys or tigers.

She was mesmerised by the giraffes, despite being quite tired by the time we got round to them. Such amazing features; I can only imagine what she made of them, how her brain must have had to work to make sense of them.

  

By far and away the biggest success was the penguin area, which has big glass panels where you can watch them swim. Frida was beside herself with joy (lots of pointing and delighted shouting) and we spent a loooong time there, just watching the penguins swim in the sunshine. Bliss.


London Zoo also has an aquarium within it – perfect for hiding from the April showers and a wonderful sensory experience for children of all ages. She watched the fish for a long time, holding on to me tight the whole time as I think she was a tiny bit scared of them.

I didn’t get many good photos as I tried to put my phone away as much as possible, and I have learnt in the past that photos of beautiful animals often end up languishing un-viewed on my iPhone. It was a glorious day though, nicely bookended by a walk through Regent’s Park where the blossoms and flowers are out in full force.

Tomorrow the forecast is for heavy rain so I’m pleased we were able to sneak in this visit.

A holiday in Suffolk (part 2)

We’ve only been home a few days and already our holiday feels like it was so long ago. We are already back in the routine of laundry, preparing meals, wiping the table (I feel like I do this allllll day long – anyone else?), nap times, and all the other little things which make up our daily rhythm.

As I wrote previously we were staying in a little cottage very close to  the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We spent a lot of time taking Frida outside just to look at the sheep outside the cottage. I have noticed that since coming home she has become very interested in them, selecting her Holztiger ewe to play with over and over again, saying “baa baa”, or choosing the sheep piece from an old knobbed puzzle to carry around with her. I am going to try and take her to a local farm this week to have another look at some.

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We visited Southwold, a very twee seaside town just a twenty minute drive from where we were staying. With a sandy beach, painted beach huts, a pier, and some great bakeries, we felt very touristy. There was also a great playground tucked behind a church in the town centre where we took Frida to tire her out a bit before a nap (where she finally decided she likes slides!)

   

 We absolutely loved visiting the Minsmere RSPB reserve. It is such an amazing space, and going in springtime was wonderful as we saw countless hopping rabbits and some deer. Unsurprisingly the place is teeming with birds and your ears are filled with birdsong. It is also possible to see otters although we weren’t lucky enough (also we didn’t bring any binoculars – oops! Amateurs.)

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We also went to visit the Dunwich Heath and Beach National Trust site, which was perfect for long walks. It wasn’t the season for heather, which was a shame, but the gorse! If you have never smelt gorse then go and find some to sniff as soon as you can, it is divine – the closest I can get is coconut ice.

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All of these places were by the sea, so we made the most of it with multiple visits. Frida was absolutely fascinated by it (my parents live in Brighton so she has seen it before but I feel like this was the first time she “got” it) and loved playing “run away from the waves” games with her dad.

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This was a perfect location to spend a few days with a baby and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone. I’m already wondering where we can go next – as much as I love going abroad there is something so good about exploring your country and getting to know it a bit better. 

A holiday in Suffolk (part 1)

We have spent most of the last week on holiday in Suffolk, a beautiful county in the East of England – hence being a bit quiet recently on the blogging front. Despite getting married in December we still hadn’t been away, my husband had booked some time off work, and we wanted to escape our house for a while as despite buying it just over a year ago there is still a huge list of DIY and house tasks we still need to complete (although I wonder if we will ever manage to do these with an active and inquisitive child around, especially as there are so many things I would rather do than paint wardrobes or sort out cupboards or research tiling).

Anyway. At the last minute we rented a beautiful converted cottage called The Seed Store, just a short drive from the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The cottage itself is wonderful, with the main living area surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows; perfect for soaking up the spring sunshine which we were lucky enough to have throughout our stay. You can look directly onto the field in front of the cottage, which was home to lots of sheep. Frida was in heaven, pointing at them and saying “baa baa”. Needless to say we did many trips outside to look at them!

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At home I co-sleep with Frida so we did the same on holiday, and made sure we booked somewhere with a comfortable looking sofa in case my husband needed somewhere to retreat to. I’m so glad we did this as Frida is still waking up very often, and this holiday was no different – possibly even more than at home, perhaps because the bed and surroundings were unfamiliar. Yawn.

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Although I was determined to get organised with packing, I predictably did not manage to do so and found myself frantically packing the just a few hours before we had to leave. This led to quite chaotic over-packing! My husband and I both ended up packing books for Frida, which meant we ended up with a lot. However, most of the time we spent indoors Frida sat flicking through them, so I don’t think it was too bad a move. We emptied a fruit bowl to use as an improvised Montessori book basket.

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I also packed a few of Frida’s favourite toys, though in hindsight I should really have been more confident in not bringing any toys with us as when she wasn’t looking at books she was busy crawling around, pulling herself up onto things, and trying to grab our sunglasses / phones / the laptop / our muddy walking boots. I set her toys up in a calm part of the living room, and she did use them, but not very much.

The toys I packed are: Grimm’s conical stacker / a few Holztiger animals / GALT pop-up peg toy / three circle puzzle / wooden rainbow sound blocks.

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Before leaving we were both a bit anxious about the journey as the longest Frida had been in a car was less than two hours. Again though our fears were unfounded; we timed both journeys so that Frida had a long nap, and then she was in a good mood for the rest of the drive (and whilst she napped we were able to listen to an audiobook – such a treat).

To make our lives easier whilst away, we packed our trusty IKEA Antilop, as without the tray it can be sat flush against the table, making family mealtimes easier.  We also decided to take disposable nappies as we didn’t know if we would have a washing machine to wash Frida’s cloth nappies. We took the potty as well as we wanted to continue Frida’s toilet learning whilst on holiday.

Natural History Museum

After a couple of weeks of everyone in the family picking up one illness or another (again – I am so over winter now…) we are finally better. Hurrah! 

We’ve spent lots of time recently hanging out at home and in local parks and commons, but I wanted to do something a bit different today so after lunch I popped Frida in the sling and headed off to the Natural History Museum. 

  
I love the Natural History Museum so much. It’s worth visiting for the building alone, a soaring secular chapel devoted to the creatures and minerals that inhabit our world. 

  
When we arrived I realised I was hungry so we had an obligatory stop for some cake. Frida was thrilled at being allowed to taste a little bit and I was thrilled that there was an abundance of high chairs. 

  
I thought we would start by looking at the mammals. Frida seemed so interested, both in the displays and in all the other people visiting the museum (it is sadly never, ever quiet). She insisted on waving at everyone and everything we passed, and had a particularly animated – if one sided – exchange with a stuffed jaguar in a display cabinet. She was also mesmerised by the giraffe, craning her head back over and over again, and pointing up at it. 

  
We also compared her hand to a rhino footprint (spoiler alert – its smaller).

  
She seemed to really enjoy it, but after about an hour became tired and I had to feed her to sleep in the sling. I can think of worse places to have to breastfeed in! 

  
I thought I would make the most of my “alone time” whilst she slept and crept up to my absolute favourite bit of the museum – not the dinosaurs, or the enormous blue whale, but the calm gallery of minerals. 

From meteors to malachite, they are all there, glistening in their neatly labelled rows. 

  
At the end of the room there is “the vault”, a section with the most amazing precious stones and even some rock from Mars. It’s a shame Frida was asleep as I think she would have enjoyed crawling around and looking at all of the cases. 

It would have been good to explore more with her – I think next time I will dawdle less at home and make a day of it with her. London’s free museums are one of my favourite things about the city and one I intend to make full use of now Frida is getting a bit older. 

Sonia Delaunay at Tate Modern

One of the advantages of living in London is that there is always an exhibition on somewhere that I want to go and see. Although at times the noise, pollution and pace of life leaves me feeling disenchanted with the city, I think it is actually a marvellous place to raise a child. There is so much to do, and to take in. So many ideas to be inspired by, cultures to experience, and new things to see, do and eat.

A couple of weeks ago, before I hurt my back, we decided to go and visit the Sonia Delaunay exhibition at the Tate Modern with my mum.

Sonia Delaunay was a French artist who worked in Paris in the early twentieth century. Her work uses big, bold colours and geometric shapes, and spans paint, costume design, and beautiful fabrics. In short, an absolutely perfect exhibition for  baby.

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Frida with my wonderful mum

I only managed to sneak a couple of photos, and they don’t do the exhibition justice at all, but I will absolutely be going back with Frida as she was mesmerised by the bright colours and patterns.

I love going to see art with her. I find that it completely changes the way that I see it, and also changes the way that I experience the exhibition as a whole. Pre-baby, I would have wandered round at a leisurely pace, pondering the art. Now if I’m carrying Frida, I focus only on the things which I think she will enjoy, spending a long time looking at things which seem to bring her joy, moving away quickly if she seems bored. If someone else has her, I rush around, trying to catch up on all the pieces I have missed, wondering if she would have liked them. It’s not worse or better, but it’s certainly a different way of experiencing a gallery!

A particular favourite was the wall of moving fabrics, which she was captivated by. If you look closely at the image below you can see her little legs are blurry because she was kicking them so fast with excitement.

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The exhibition was absolutely huge too – we spend easily a good hour in there, but could have spent far longer if we had the time.

We bought Frida a beautiful pop-up book from the exhibition shop, too – it was almost worth the trip to the gallery just for the book.

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My only minor gripe is that there was nowhere to sit in the exhibition, so I had to breastfeed cross-legged on the floor of the exhibition. I don’t mind doing so at all,  but I can see why some people might not care to do so, or find it comfortable.

It was all going so well. Until we left! It was pouring with rain, Frida was grizzling, S was running late to meet friends, and then we encountered… this.

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Yes, that is basically a river, just past Blackfriars. No, there was no other way to continue along the Southbank. We had to take our shoes off and walk through the filthy water and pray the pram survived (it did, just). Hideous.

Cost: Free to us as my mum is a member, but otherwise tickets are £14.50 for adults. Well worth it in my opinion, I would happily have paid to go!

Travel: Public transport

Would I recommend it: Without hesitation. I will definitely be going back, as it was the perfect exhibition for babies.

This post was one of my “holiday at home” posts, read more of them here

Grayson Perry “Provincial Punk” : a day-trip to Margate

I love holidaying at home. When abroad or in another city I always want to explore, do new things, go to galleries and museums and wander around beautiful outdoor spaces, but I find it’s really easy to forget to do that at home and to get stuck in the save old groove of doing the old same things. Taking the time to really enjoy where we live can feel just as restorative, and leaves me feeling so much happier about living in the city and all of the not-so-fun things that also entails. So with S taking a couple of weeks off work, we are both keen to actually make the most of the time we have together as a trio.

Having Frida on the scene means we’re slightly more limited, both in terms of what we can do (bye bye cocktails, going to the theatre, or spur of the moment nights away) and in terms of affordability (taking a full year of maternity leave plus having recently bought our first home sadly means financial restraint). HOWEVER. This does not mean we cannot leave London. Enter a day-trip to Margate to see Grayson Perry’s latest offering, Provincial Punk at the Turner Contemporary.

Sunny Margate!

Sunny Margate!

I was feeling so smug that we had saved some money by booking our train tickets from Victoria a few days in advance. Thus I was quite annoyed when we got to our local station to catch a train to Victoria only to see that the train was cancelled! Cue huge panic about us missing our connecting train and an extravagant black cab journey to Brixton to get on the tube instead (guilt-inducing but so easy with a buggy and cheaper than buying new train tickets).

I managed to read a few pages of my book on the train – so nice. I don’t really get much of a chance to read any more unless F is asleep (and then there always seems to be laundry or tidying or showering to do), and the pile of books on my bedside table is starting to look at me accusingly.

We walked along the seafront to the Turner, then stopped in the gallery’s cafe for some obligatory cake and coffee before tackling the exhibition.

Cake from the cafe

Cake from the cafe

The exhibition itself was really good; a manageable mix of Perry’s pots, maps, video art, and tapestries. S and I are both big fans on Perry, so we knew we would like it, but it was nice to be proved right. The tapestries were probably the highlight for us, and despite sleeping through most of the exhibition and then waking up grumpy – nothing a bit of boob couldn’t fix – even Frida enjoyed looking them, staring in open-mouthed amazement. Although probably her favourite thing was being put back in her pram so she could play with the exhibition booklet. So fascinating, so pink.

S and I both love showing Frida art, and experiencing art with a baby definitely makes you see it in a different way. Colours become vital, bold shapes are amazing, patterns inspire awe. You take a step back and ask yourself how it would feel to experience the art without any preconceptions. It sounds very corny, but having a baby definitely makes you look at things in a new light. Flowers, trees, sunlight coming through curtains, the way wind feels on your skin, the sparkle of light on water – you start to appreciate these things again.

Although Perry is probably not entirely suitable for an older child due to the explicit content in some of his art (unless of course you are feeling in a very frank and open mood, in which case go for it!) it was a great exhibition for a baby.

Frida's favourite part of the exhibition

Frida’s favourite part of the exhibition

Exhibition aside, I really liked the layout of the gallery. There was an activity station for children where they could practice weaving with neon wool, an interactive cymbal structure (pictured below), good baby changing facilities and the biggest lift I have ever seen. It all seemed very child-friendly and some of the gallery assistants even came over for a little chat and to say hello to Frida.

Start them young...

After we were done we went for a little walk along the sunny sea front and Frida enjoyed some nice nappy-free time in the sea breeze, and then some poems and cuddles with her daddy as we listened to the waves lapping.

Sunny cuddles with daddy

Sunny cuddles with daddy

The train journey back was fairly depressing as were were near two mums travelling with young (still in buggies) children, who were speaking to their kids in such a horrible way that at one point I suggested to S that we might want to contact social services. It’s sad that it’s not an uncommon experience to witness behaviour from parents towards their children which is bordering on the abusive, and I’m never quite sure what to do in those situations.

Having a baby has definitely made me more sensitive when it comes to worrying about the well-being of other children – the thought of harm befalling Frida, or her being spoken to in the way that we were overhearing, makes me feel physically sick. A bit of a downer to end the post on, so here is a photo of Frida “standing” on the train table in her lovely crocodile jumper.

Always standing

Always standing

Cost: £30 train tickets, £14 cab fare, £14 for snacks and drinks in the cafe, £2 ice cream

Travel: black cab (oops), public transport

Would I recommend it: Absolutely. Brilliant (free!) exhibition, sandy beaches, ice cream. I also actually really enjoy train journeys, and with a two adults to one baby ratio you can even take it in turns to read. A lovely day-trip from London.

This post was one of my “holiday at home” posts, read more of them here